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Philosophy Research Archives

Volume 14, 1988/1989

William L. Langenfus
Pages 121-136

A Problem for Harman’s Moral Relativism

Gilbert Harman’s defense of moral relativism is distinctive because it is grounded upon a fundamental theory of moral obligation, and not merely upon certain well-known anthropological facts (e.g., cultural diversity). Harman’s theory of moral obligation is a particular form of “internalism”-roughly, that to have a moral obligation, one must have some adequate motivation (either dispositional or occurrent) to observe such constraints on action. It is argued, in the present piece, that Harman’s version of internalism fails to account for the sense of using common moral judgments for the purposes of moral education (there is, in other words, a relativism that exists between those with more complex moralities and those who are just learning moral ideas). But this use of moral judgments seems to be crucial in moral education. Since this is so, this difficulty poses an important anomaly to Harman’s relativistic moral theory.

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